Quite a few years ago I visited a church in Warwickshire so that I could photograph the two effigies within.
Meriden is situated in Warwickshire, north of Kenilworth and is landmarked as the Centre of England. Just East of the village on the top of a hill is the church of St. Laurence, within its walls are the two effigies of Sir John Wyard, c1404 and reputedly Sir John Walsh d1468.
Sir John Wyard’s effigy is attributed to the London school of Carvers and is made from alabaster quarried in Derbyshire. The armour is typical for the period with jupon and basinet, (see Sir Fulke de Pembrugge) but has one interesting feature in the positioning of the belt which is situated at the waistline instead of the more usual hips. (I will look at this effigy in a later Blog)
Above. right. Sir John Wyard c1404
The effigy of Sir John Walsh
The second effigy is made from sandstone and as such has suffered some deterioration; although inferior in quality to the Wyard’s effigy it is interesting in that the helmet is of a sallet design. This design was common during the period we know as the War of the Roses. The development of the Great basinet (see Tong) had almost come to an end during the mid 15th century and its use had been relegated to the joust. Its inability to move with the head had made it redundant in battle and what was needed was something less bulky.
Effigy of Sir John Walsh
In Italy and Germany the sallet and bevor had been popular for quite some time, the bevor, which protected the neck, allowed the helmet to move independently, and with the addition of a visor the wearer could breath more easily.
The helmet used on the Walsh effigy has a bevor and raised visor, it also has very large decorative rivets around its base.
The naive style of Sir John’s effigy leads me to believe the sculptor was a local mason, more used to creating church adornments or gargoyles than creating life size figures dressed in armour.
It seems unlikely that a local stone mason would have access to any form of patterns that might be used in place of a suit of armour. It is equally likely that he would not be an expert on the construction of armour and as such would probably need a harness or at least part of one to sculpt from.
This point of interest leads me to believe that most if not all of the details on Sir John’s armour are accurate. The fact that the carving is naive should not detract us from what the sculptor saw and tried to reproduce in sandstone.
Sabatons and Greaves.
Sabatons and spurs
Sir John’s greaves are plain in construction with little detail carved, the ankle is formed to take the shape of the spur and the shape of the leg can be seen. No hinge or strap details are visible.
The sabatons, Which rest on a splendid lion that retains some colour, are pointed and constructed from a series of V shaped lames that are hinged at the base of each lame, an ankle plate is visible.
Spurs are again simple in shape and have an unadorned strap with a square buckle. The rowel is not clearly formed which is not surprising due to the nature of the material that the effigy is carved from.
Tassets’, cuisse and poleyn.
The cuisses’ on Sir John’s effigy are of plain and unadorned construction. At the uppermost point a turned, rolled edge can be seen, which would have been vital not only for comfort but also protection.
The upper inner thigh has a vulnerable artery that runs between the leg and the groin. At this point a cut from a sharp blade would be fatal and the need to protect the leg at this point and not cause any accidental cuts from the cuisse caused the armourers to form a rolled edge.
This roll is constructed by hammering the edge over and turning it back on itself. In some cases a wire strip was placed between the fold before it was closed up thus causing a strong edge that held its shape.
The poleyns’ are constructed from four plates consisting of a cup; a narrow upper and lower lame and a further larger pointed lower lame.
The cup has a wing that is scalloped in shape and three rivets can be seen, two for articulation of the lames and a centre one for fixing the leather joining straps.
Sir John’s two tassets are rectangular in shape with a central ridge and a shaped bottom edge that forms three points. Each tasset is fixed to the lower lame of the fauld via two buckled straps, (the buckles appear to be square shaped). A central lame is fastened to the fauld between the tassets giving more protection to the groin.
The idea of using tassets to protect the join from leg to body had only been feasible with the full development of the lower part of the breastplate or fauld. Early Tassets had been extensions added to the bottom of the fauld, but in Sir John’s day the tasset had become a separate part of the armour.
Many shapes and forms of tasset can be seen in existing armours, with decorative fluting that matched the popular Gothic style. Plainer versions can be seen on Italian armours.
The pauldrons’ on Sir John’s effigy display a series of nine lames that curve around the shoulder and upper arm, the arm section being made from three V shaped lames.
The shoulder lames fall diagonally and are riveted at the lowest point front and rear.
The lame nearest the neck has a rolled edge to allow freedom of movement over the bevor.
During the mid fifteenth century the pauldron became separate from the upper cannon and was usually laced to the arming jack. Better flexibility was obtained and as such the lames that made up the piece became longer expanding across the chest at the front and shoulder blades at the rear. The pauldron could protect the armpit even with the arm lifted high. This method of protection relied on the articulation of each lame (Via rivets) and making sure the piece extended far enough over the cuirass to not get caught on the breastplate. (I have seen many modern re-enactment armours that have got this measurement wrong, to the consternation of the wearer who is constantly unhooking the pauldron from the armhole of his breastplate after lifting his arm).
The couter consists of an elbow cup and three upper and lower lames, the shape is a little old fashioned as it would have been more common to have a separate couter that laced onto the elbow using points made from leather.
The upper and lower cannon have no detail but due to the nature of the couter were probably riveted to it.
The gauntlets are semi mittens having a large plate covering the back of the hand, this plate is shaped into a point at the front and when the hand was clenched this point extended over the knuckles making a formidable weapon if used in a fist fight. The cuff is short and also ends in a point. The fingers would have been covered with a series of lames, but again due to the easily eroded sandstone their true form cannot be seen.
Sallet and neck protection
In England the sallet became most popular from the mid 15th century onwards. Prior to this the great basinet had taken preference, but it did not take long to realise the restrictive qualities of the design. The armet was an alternative but this also enclosed the head and face and in some cases restricted breathing. The sallet however offered the wearer the ability to lift not only a visor but also the whole helmet so that it rested on the back of the head in the same manner as a Grecian helmet. It left the neck free to move in any direction and with the addition of a bevor, which protected the lower half of the face and neck, the wearer was completely protected.
My illustration of Sir John Walsh in his effigy armour.
Various effigies that display this style of helmet can be seen across the country, but most effigy makers from the period chose to sculpt a bare head, the reason for this was probably the age old problem of showing the face within the helmet. Sir John’s sallet is shown with the visor raised, which has caused the sculptor some problem in showing the occularium and as such he has chosen to flatten the visor rather than sculpting the fragile extension on the beak of the visor.
Around the helmet can be seen decorative rivets that would have held the lining in place and below this a decorative strip can be seen running around the edge of the helmet.
The neck and chin are protected by either a high sided bevor or a mail hood and mantel. It is unclear by looking at the effigy, which is sculpted, but it is more likely that a high standing knight would have worn a bevor.
Effigy of Sir John. Note the belt around the waist.
Development of the salletIn England
the sallet became most popular from the mid 15th century onwards. Prior to
this, the great bascinet had taken preference, but it did not take long to
realise the restrictive qualities of the design. The armet was an alternative
but this also enclosed the head and face and in some cases restricted
breathing. The sallet however offered the wearer the ability to lift not only a
visor but also the whole helmet so that it rested on the back of the head in
the same manner as a Grecian helmet. It left the neck free to move in any
direction and with the addition of a bevor, which protected the lower half of
the face and neck, the wearer was completely protected.
effigies that display this style of helmet can be seen across the country, but
most effigy makers from the period chose to sculpt a bare head, the reason for
this was probably the age old problem of showing the face within the helmet.
The sallet first appeared very early in the 15th century. Its evolution appears to have begun from two distinct starting points, the kettle hat and the bascinet.
The kettle hats evolution began far back in time and its origin can be seen in Greek Boetian helmets from the 3rd century BC. Its method of construction was comparatively simple, being a single sheet of metal beaten over a former. True kettle hats can be seen in 13th century artwork and for two hundred years this form of helmet remained popular with foot soldiers. During the early 15th Century the kettle hat becomes a contender to the bascinet (see A) and was worn by foot soldiers and nobility alike. With the addition of a deeper rim and eye slots (See B) the kettle hats transformation into the Sallet became inevitable. This style of helmet could be pulled down over the eyes during battle but left the lower part of the face and neck unprotected, a deeper skull with a smaller rim protected the head more successfully (See C).
During the mid 15th century a series of plates that independently protected the neck and chin known as a Bevor completed the sallets evolution (See D).
At the same time that the kettle hat was evolving, the bascinets shape changed to follow a similar transformation. The popularity of the bascinet with the higher orders waned in the 15th century with the use of armour piercing bodkins and increased fighting on foot rather than on horse. The nobility discarded their bascinets in favor of the Great bascinet and it was the archers who took up the old bascinets removing the visor and mail aventail (See E). This unencumbered helmet could move freely and with a shortening of the sides a simple sallet was made (See F). This form of helmet was popular in Italy and would, with the addition of a visor and bevor, become the true sallet.
The Barbute (See G), although not a sallet must also feature in its evolution. Its shape has far more in common with the bascinet with its long sides and back but its true origin lies in the early discoveries of Greek helmets during the Italian Renaissance.
The Sallet remained popular throughout the 15th century. Its two lines of evolution maintaining its popularity with the nobility and common foot soldier alike. In Germany it gained high status with the advent of the gothic style and laminated tails were added for extra protection of the neck. The shape was even incorporated into jousting harness.
In Italy the sallet followed the rounded forms of the Milanese style and large elaborate rivets were used as decoration. Some sallets were covered in velvet whilst others were painted with coats of arms or fantastical beasts.
In England the sallet became popular and examples can be seen in Coventry and Lichfield museums. An unusual example can be seen in the Royal Armouries (Originaly in Pluckly Church Kent (See H) that incorporates a fixed bevor that is similar to a close-helmets chin protection. This helmet is similar to the one worn by Sir John Walsh in Warwickshire.
Lesser knights being unwilling to part with expensive armour must have employed local smiths to convert helmets and many sallets may have started life as another helmet being added to and changed to follow fashion.
Photographs of extant Sallets can be seen on my pinterest page click yellow link below
Link to my illustration of The charge of Richard III at Bosworth.